I finally finished reading Michael Kimmelman's book (I'm a really slow reader). It strikes me when I read art criticism or commentary how dependent it is on the context. I'm sure that Kimmelman wouldn't consider himself a strict contextualist, but in writing about art it seems to be necessary to clue the reader in to the background of the artist and why the art was done. Kimmelman has access to artists that most of us don't have giving him great insight into the context of work that he writes about, but he is also great at verbalizing his own interpretation of the work without all of the incomprehensible "psycho-babble" (my wife's word) even if he knows that it is different from the artist's intention.
I have always considered myself a bit of a contextualist. Being an artist I have trouble separating the work from the artist and can appreciate the work on a whole other level having that knowledge. Several years ago I visited a gallery in New York that was exhibiting work by the Mississippi artist Walter Anderson. A gallery worker spoke to me (I'm not one to initiate conversation) and I told him that I am from Mississippi, and that I love Walter Anderson's work, and that he was a complete nut case. With snoot in the air he told me that they prefer to just focus on the work. Well guess what, Anderson's work was his life and it is does a disservice to him and his family to separate the two.
This does not mean however that I can't appreciate seeing artwork without having any knowledge of the artist. There is a wonderful group show at Gallery 119 right now called "5 under 35", five artists under the age of 35, all of whom are new to me. The artists are Charlie Buckley, Laurie Fisher, Allan Innman, Amanda Sparks and Carlyle Wolfe. I have actually seen Amanda's incredible work before in the current Invitational show at the Mississippi Museum. In starting this blog I was more interested in solo or two person exhibitions that really show a good concept for the show as a whole with a unified body of work. This group show doesn't really fit in those parameters, but I was so struck by the work of Carlyle Wolfe that I wanted to put it on the blog. I had the chance to meet her at the opening, but again I am not very good at introducing myself, so I didn't. Perhaps I could have given you a bit more context had I spoken to her, but the work is so strikingly beautiful that I think that it is not necessary even in writing about it. Her work which is usually of flowers can be striking and harsh with hard-edged cutouts and at the same time delicate and dainty. It has a flat softness reminiscent of traditional chinese watercolors, and beautiful layering that reminds of the work of Julie Mehretu. So now, I think I will find out more about her, like whether she is related to Karl Wolfe, whose autobiography I am starting to read now.
Vinca (watercolor on tissue embroidered)
Pink Hydrangeas (Oil)
Begonias, Vinca, and Zinnias (embroidered monotype)